The Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, has defended the censorship of government documents relating to web monitoring while denying it was his fault.
His comments come as his department continued inquiries into monitoring and storing the Web traffic of all Australian Internet users. The department responded to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request from the SMH Online on the issue by releasing a consultation paper that was 90 per cent censored with black markings.
“I consider that release of such documents may lead to premature unnecessary debate and could potentially prejudice and impede government decision making,” legal officer, Claudia Hernandez, wrote at the time.
Speaking at the opening of an international legal centre in Sydney, McClelland said the consultation was important and came in line with overseas standards.
“The FoI request was made to the Attorney-General’s department, it wasn’t made to me so the secretary of the department makes the call on these matters,” he said. “To be frank, I haven’t seen the document. I don’t know the content and I’m not in a position to judge whether those redactions are or are not appropriate.”
But when asked if he would provide the document if he personally received an FoI request, the Attorney-General said he did not have the documents and could not provide it.
McClelland promised to have a full and open consultation on the issue with the Australian public, but refused to say when.
“It’s not something the Government is driving as an issue,” he said. “It’s an issue the department is consulting on partly as a result of representations from agencies, partly as a result of international trends.”
But he also defended the use of such measures and said they were useful for law enforcement and would help stop child exploitation.
“The discussion tends to be that Big Brother is after your private information,” he said. “The fact of the matter is this information can be very relevant for law enforcement, and regrettably when you talk about the Internet it can be very relevant to preventing the exploitation of children.
“The discussions have focussed … on the times of the communications and who the communications were between.”